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I'm having trouble understanding this sentence by Noam Chomsky. Noam published many English-related scientific papers in his professional career and I have no doubt that this italicization is purposeful. It seems like he is setting up a contrast, but then the italicization wouldn't be on the word "their." Here's the sentence and its context:

Legitimizing versus Meaningless Third World Elections

“Third world elections provide an excellent testing ground for a propaganda model. Some elections are held in friendly client states to legitimize their rulers and regimes, whereas others are held in disfavored or enemy countries to legitimize their political systems. This natural dichotomization is strengthened by the fact that elections in the friendly client states are often held under U.S. sponsorship and with extensive U.S. management and public-relations support.”

Excerpt From: Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky. “Manufacturing Consent.” iBooks.

Note that this is the first paragraph in the chapter, with the chapter title emboldened. Thanks for your help!

closed as off-topic by Oldcat, tchrist, Misti, Ellie Kesselman, Chenmunka Jul 11 '15 at 19:41

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    Italics are for emphasis, and are not part of the English language. – Oldcat Jul 9 '15 at 0:34
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    this is about italics, a typographic trick and not the English Language. – Oldcat Jul 9 '15 at 0:35
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    @Oldcat To be fair, the site does have an italics tag. – pyobum Jul 9 '15 at 1:06
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    @Oldcat: Italics are for several things other than emphasis. The use of italics in English texts is part of English usage, like capitalization rules. googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2012/07/… – sumelic Jul 9 '15 at 17:15
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    I don't understand why this was closed, so I started a meta post: meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/6988/… – sumelic Jul 11 '15 at 19:56
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It is done to make a clear distinction between the two 'their's in the sentence.

The sentence can easily be split into two halves:

Some elections are held in friendly client states to legitimize their rulers and regimes

and

... others are held in disfavored or enemy countries to legitimize their political systems.

In the first half, 'their' refers to the friendly client states.

In the second half there might be confusion - does 'their' refer to the friendly client states or to the disfavored or enemy countries?

Using italics for the second 'their' indicates that it refers to the disfavored or enemy states.

  • Now that you phrase it like this, it seems so obvious. Normally you would see the "their" emphasized if the end noun is the same: Some elections are held in friendly client states to legitimize their rulers and regimes, whereas others are held in disfavored or enemy countries to legitimize their rulers and regimes. Having the different nouns at the end confused me. Thanks! – user1917407 Jul 9 '15 at 0:46
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    :) Italics are often used to represent words which would be emphasized in speech - it can often help to say the sentence out loud with emphasis on the italicised word. – Mynamite Jul 9 '15 at 0:51

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